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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Erikson is big loss for Schenectady council

The surprise resignation of Schenectady City Councilman Carl Erikson is a loss for the city, and also a symptom of a larger problem.

Erikson, who announced that he was stepping down at Monday’s council meeting, was intelligent and thoughtful, unafraid of veering off script or asking tough questions. He was knowledgeable about the city’s budget and fiscal challenges, and concerned with finding ways to save money while maintaining services. He seemed like a committed councilman, and if I lived in his district I would have been happy to vote for him.

Erikson’s reason for resigning was simple: He said he could no longer balance council duties and family responsibilities with his new job at Plug Power in Latham. “I decided to refocus on my career and my family,” he said in his resignation speech.

This is perfectly legitimate.

Public service, as it’s often called, is a major grind, and I imagine that for some people it’s more of a grind than others.

Say what you will about politicians, but they usually work hard.

They attend meetings, deal with constituents, review legislation, budget documents and other information, form alliances and fight with their fellow councilmen and women. I’m sure there are people who think this sounds like a lot of fun, but I’m not one of them. To me, it sounds exhausting. I could see doing it for two years and resigning because I was so sick of dealing with people and having to speak in public.

And I’m sure the job becomes even more exhausting when you’re fighting with your own party, as Erikson did. He was in danger of not being endorsed for re-election by the city Democratic Committee, mainly because he didn’t always vote with his party. To voters, this was probably a good thing — an indication that Erikson was not a yes man or rubber stamp.

Unfortunately, that independent voice is gone.

Erikson’s departure leaves the council short one member, a not-uncommon problem.

The last time the council had a full complement of members for an entire year was 2011. As Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore observed in an article on the council’s new vacancy, “So many seats have been first filled through midyear appointments that less than half the members of the council won their first seat in an election.”

This is pretty much the opposite of how things are supposed to work in a functioning democracy. Midyear appointments should be a rarity, not the norm.

I have no idea why unexpected vacancies are so common on the Schenectady City Council, or what can be done to make them occur with less frequency. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I believe that elected officials should be elected, and that they should serve out their terms.

Bad decision

Given the challenges upstate cities face, I’m always kind of amazed when public officials go out of their way to solve a nonexistent problem.

The latest nonexistent problem to catch my attention? The Amsterdam Common Council’s decision to ban basketball hoops on city sidewalks and streets. Mayor Ann Thane vetoed the ordinance, but the council overrode her.

This is too bad, because this law criminalizes a perfectly harmless activity while also making it more difficult for kids to get exercise and play.

I might see things differently if basketball-loving kids were regularly getting struck by cars, or setting up their portable hoops in wildly inappropriate places, such as Route 30.

But there’s little evidence that either of those things are occurring.

I was fortunate enough to live next to a church with a basketball hoop in its parking lot growing up. If I wanted to shoot hoops all I had to do was step outside. Sometimes cars drove through the parking lot, and I would collect my basketball and move out of the way. Whenever I drive through neighborhoods where kids happen to be playing basketball in the street, they are attentive to traffic and quick to step aside.

There is a difference between playing basketball on a quiet side street that sees little traffic and a busy, heavily trafficked road. Perhaps, as a Gazette editorial suggested, the ordinance could be modified to bar basketball hoops on streets with higher speed limits, or certain neighborhoods.

Or perhaps Amsterdam should turn its attention to a real problem: the lack of safe places for kids to play.

The best way to prevent kids from playing basketball in the street is to give them another option.

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